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The jostling and juggling in committees is over, the floor votes are coming, and the Senate/House bill-merging is on the horizon. Now the real deal making, back stabbing, hyperbole-laden struggle is underway. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is polling Democrats to find the 218 votes needed to pass her “robust public option” version of the legislation. The Senate Finance committee has birthed its “Baucus Plan”, with no public option. President Barack Obama is sending mixed messages, recently undercutting House Democrats by claiming he no longer “requires” a public option.

In other words, it’s the usual awful mess that attends any effort by Congress to do anything important. There will be huffing and puffing, breath-holding, insult-hurling, and maybe even a few tears shed. Don’t fall for any of it – it’s all a show.

The real bad smell here is coming from the White House. As the Obama administration reveals just how weak, ineffective, and downright scared they are, it is left to congressional Democrats to step forward and lead the way for the President’s agenda. Republicans are licking their chops as they see signs of an easy kill, and a huge defeat for Obama and Pelosi. Where will it all end?

Nowhere. The Democrats “new” public option is simply Medicare with a slightly altered rate structure. The Republican alternative is simply private insurance doing business as usual, with new names stuck on their coverage plans. Nothing substantive will come of any of this. Current insurance holders will get shuffled and re-shuffled into new coverage plans that will amount to the same or less coverage, and when the dust settles things will be about the same. Except everyone in the country will be pissed-off, as usual, with government incompetence.

And where is President Obama in all of this? If I had to guess I’d say cowering under his desk. Health care reform, Iraq, Afghanistan, the economy – it all seems just beyond his grasp. And so, like all presidents who lose control (or never had any) his adminstration is taking to the “bunker mentality” and hiding within the walls of the White House, pretending to have control. Nixon did it. Reagan did it. Clinton did it. Bush did it. It’s the normal state of affairs now for government: tap your heels together and make believe.

If Obama does win the health care battle, it will be because Nancy Pelosi and fellow Democrats won it for him – in fact, in spite of him. If he doesn’t we will hear very little more from the White House for the rest of the year. Obama’s position will be wholly decided by the mid-term elections. And at the moment his position looks shaky.